Belfast-born poet Derek Mahon dies aged 78


Derek Mahon picture in black and white

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John Minihan/The Gallery Press

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Derek Mahon has died in Kinsale, County Cork, following a short illness

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The Belfast-born poet Derek Mahon has died aged 78 after a short illness.

A writer of international renown, Mahon was born in Belfast and began writing poetry during his schooldays at RBAI.

Announcing his death Mahon’s publisher, Gallery Press called him a “master poet” and a “pure artist”.

The cross-border body Poetry Ireland said that his “influence in the Irish poetry community, literary world and society at large, and his legacy, is immense”.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, RTÉ ended their evening news bulletin with Mahon reading his iconic poem ‘Everything is going to be alright’.

It was a reminder of Derek Mahon’s central place in Irish culture.

After his schooldays at RBAI Mahon attended Trinity College in Dublin.

His first collection, Twelve Poems, was published by the Belfast Festival at Queen’s in 1965.

Oxford University Press then published his first major collection, Night Crossings, in 1968.

He went on to publish many collections of poems across a career that spanned half a century, as well as writing scripts for some TV dramas.

Mahon was part of an extraordinary group of Northern Irish poets who began to publish work in the mid-1960s and went on to achieve global renown.

His contemporaries included Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon.

After a spell as a journalist in London, Mahon spent a year as writer-in-residence at Ulster University (UU) in Coleraine in the late 1970s while living in Portrush.

“From the window where I write I look eastwards along the shore to the ruins of Dunluce Castle (once a MacDonnell stronghold) and the Giant’s Causeway,” he wrote in his essay The Coleraine Triangle.

“Slightly to my right is the Royal Portrush golf course, slightly to my left the Atlantic Ocean, with a scattering of rocky islands called the Skerries between me and Scotland.

“On a clear day I can see Jura and Islay.

“Earth has not anything to show more fair.”

‘A terrible loss’

Mahon later settled in Kinsale in County Cork, where he died.

Tributes to Mahon are being paid across the island of Ireland and beyond.

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Suella Holland

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Derek Mahon (left) pictured with editor and publisher of Gallery Press Peter Fallon

The well-known BBC journalist Fergal Keane called his death a “terrible loss”.

“He was a master whose words reached me at the darkest moments of life,” Keane said on social media.

The books editor of the Irish Times, Martin Doyle, called Mahon one of Ireland’s finest poets.

The Irish Writers Centre said his influence on Irish writing was “beyond measure”.


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